Commissioned by the Cape Town City Council. Collaborative work with Wilma Cruise. Unveiled by Mayor Helen Zille on the 24 September 2008.
The memorial comprises eleven granite blocks. Two are placed on a raised plinth on the south west corner of church square close to the Iziko Slave Lodge. A further nine are grouped in a tight grid close to the Slave Tree plaque. Each block is 80 centimetres square. Three are 80 centimetres high, four are 60 centimetres high, and four are 40 centimetres high. Their common ‘foot print’ represents our common humanity; their different heights represent growth, and the importance we attach to the youth of South Africa; they too need to be able to read the texts engraved on the surface of the blocks.
Plain black granite is used throughout. The two blocks on the raised plinth are both 80 centimetres high. Their sides are engraved with the names of the enslaved. In this task we were guided by the comprehensive research of many historians and activists. Their research has revealed these forgotten names — by engraving them on the sides of these two blocks, we hope to remember them for what they suffered, and for what they contributed to the building of the south african nation.
The other nine blocks are engraved with words from the slave period in South Africa, 1652 to 1834-8. The words embrace elements of resistance, rebellion, suffering on the slave ships and on the ‘middle passage’, the provenance of slaves, religion, slave life, manumission, punishment, and the slave lodge. The words are engraved in concentric circles, with the slave tree plaque as the centre. The words run up the sides of the blocks, across the tops in shallow arcs, and down the other sides. On occasion, the words are truncated — almost as if they run under the surface of the paving.
Thus the memorial is characterized by silence — silence in the face of the abomination that was slavery. This is evoked by the reflective surface of the stones and their solemn arrangement on church square. Their weighty presence elicits the memory of the slaves that were sold, tortured and suffered at church square.
Church square is itself an important marker of slave history, and is bounded on three sides by other important buildings: Iziko Slave Lodge, the Groote Kerk where VOC slaves were baptized, and Spin Street, site of the slave tree and a former silk factory in which slave children kept at the lodge were required to work.